Monday, September 22, 2014

Pico De Gallo - Fresh From The Garden


One of my favorite things about having a garden is the ability to have fresh Pico De Gallo. Of course, I have to wait until late August for the tomatoes to fully ripen, but by the time they are ready, I'm still harvesting plenty of jalapeno peppers and the last of the cilantro.

I make Pico De Gallo at least once a week. For most of the year, I use store-bought tomatoes or even canned petite diced tomatoes, whole jalapenos I've frozen, dried cilantro and store-bought onions. It's good, but the fresh Pico de Gallo is worlds better! We could easily make a meal of it, and often have when the "Pickles" are elsewhere and it's just Mr. LH and I for the evening.

Pico De Gallo

2 cups of fresh diced tomatoes (or one can petite diced tomatoes, NOT drained)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried cilantro)
2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
(or you could substitute 1 to 1 1/2 tsp total lemon pepper seasoning for the lemon juice AND the ground black pepper) 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors meld together. Serve with tortilla chips.



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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Apples Chips, Apple Bits & Apple Powder - Dehydrating Apples


When I have a farm... (lots of my sentences start like that these days)

Anyway, when I have a farm I will definitely plant fruit trees on it. I will plant every type of fruit tree I can find that will grow in my altitude and hardiness zone. And I will start with apples.

Last week, Sprouts Farmers Market had a wonderful sale on Gala and Granny Smith apples and I left the store with several bags of them. (I even met a lady there that was buying loads of them for her horses)

Of course, some of those apples would find their way into lunchboxes, apple fritters, fried apples and hand pies, but the rest would be dehydrated into apple chips, apple bits and even apple powder for use later when apple harvesting season is over.

With my handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer, I can quickly get apples into the dehydrator. I searched everywhere for an apple peeler at thrift stores and yard sales before I finally gave up and purchased one from Ace Hardware.


The apple peeler is not a necessary tool, but it makes the peeling, coring and slicing go so much faster. And it's enough of a novelty that the "Pickles" don't mind helping me with it.

Once the apples are peeled, I cut the whole apple in half making half-slices. I prefer the rings, but the half-slices take up less space. If you want to make rings, slice through only one side of the apple once it's peeled. Here's a detailed YouTube video you can watch that will show you how to make the apple rings.

The slices are dipped in lemon or pineapple juice diluted with water and then placed in a single layer on the drying tray.



Some of them are sprinkled with cinnamon before drying.


Dried apple chips make for a tasty and healthy snack and are great for trail food, too. You can also use them in baking. Just re-hydrate the apples with some water for use in a pie.

Some apple slices get chopped up into smaller pieces and are dehydrated into tiny apple bits. These bits are great on oatmeal (add them to your DIY Oatmeal Packets) or in granola. You can also top your cereal or yogurt with dried apple bits. Add them to your muffin batter, cookies and pancake batter too (you may need to add a bit more liquid to your recipes to help re-hydrate the apples a bit).


The apple skins that are removed by the peeler are also dried in the dehydrator until they are crispy.


Once they are dry and crispy, they can be ground in a food processor (or blender or coffee grinder) into a powder. This powder can be added to tea, smoothies, pancake or waffle batter, or to anything else where you want to add an extra punch of apple flavor. It won't dilute foods like cider and juice can, but you will need to use more powder to get the same "oomph" of flavor that cider will give.

I dry my apples at about 130 degrees. It takes several hours to dry them. If I fill the dehydrator in the morning, I usually don't turn it off until around dinnertime. I like my apples to have a bit of "chew" to them like raisins or mangoes you might buy in a store. The Boy likes his apple chips to be crispy like potato chips so his dry for much longer.

Once the apples have finished dehydrating to your likeness, let them cool down before storing them (they get more crisp as they cool).

Note: The dehydrator I use is a 9-tray Excalibur I received second hand from my mom. I've been using it for about 10 years and my mom had it for about as long before getting a new one and giving this one to me. It's has been wonderful and I highly recommend it!



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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Catching Up

Wow! September is already half over!

I've been pretty slack in tending to this blog in the last month. I'll need to devote some time in the next couple of weeks to writing in more detail about our end-of-summer activities.

Aside from a brief mention, I never wrote anything about The Boy's scout camp in late July / early August.


The scout group had to deal with miserable weather for the first half of their week (lightening, hail, downpours...) but everything turned out great in the end. When we visited the camp for "family night" , we noticed that The Boy, who is usually very shy and quiet, seemed to have really blossomed during his week at camp. He's already excited about next year!


As the end of summer break neared, we couldn't get away for several days in a row for a "proper vacation". We planned a couple of back-to-back day trips instead. On the first day, we headed into the mountains visiting places along the Lariat Loop like Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater and Buffalo Bill's Museum and Grave.


The following day, we piled into the car again. Driving just a few minutes east of town puts you right smack in the middle of nothing but prairie. That's where you'll find the Aurora Reservoir.  The Arapahoe County Fairgrounds are also nearby. We took advantage of a coupon offer - car admission, 2 hours pedal boat rental and lunch for four for $30.


Aside from the pedal boats, there were row boats, kayaks and canoes for rent, hiking trails, picnic tables, a playground and even some sand and a swim area. It was as close to the beach as we could manage on short notice but no one minded. Spending time out on the water was incredibly relaxing.


School started on August 18th. It was a little more difficult this year getting into the school routine again. The Girl started her first year in middle school and The Boy is a freshman in high school so there were a lot of big changes and adjustments for both of them.

The Girl had her 11th birthday last week. It was a small, quiet family celebration (my favorite kind) and as always, I made her birthday cake. She's is really into Pokemon now so she wanted a Pokemon cake. She also wanted it to be a Tres Leches cake. I made this recipe for Coconut Tres Leches Cake from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It's REALLY good. Not too sweet.

To decorate, I "drew" a Pokemon ("Charmander") on her cake using an image I found on Google as a template and guide. Colored shredded coconut and a smidgen of additional icing were used to "color in" the drawing.


The "garden" looks a little shabbier than it did a month ago, but it is still producing beautiful tomatoes!


I've been using them as I need them and freezing the rest whole until I have enough to can. I've heard freezing makes the tomatoes easier to peel (just thaw and slip the skins off) so I plan to experiment with that this year. If it doesn't work, I'll just toss it all into the KitchenAid strainer attachment and let IT do the work.

The pole beans rebounded after their dismal summer. I might get enough out of these plants to actually manage a side dish before fall!


The last hail storm in August pretty much decimated the large zucchini plants. But beneath the prickly, punctured, shriveled leaves, I noticed some new growth and several tiny zucchini!


Our days start an hour earlier now (The Boy has to catch the school bus at 6:30 in the morning!) and while having that extra hour is wonderful, I feel like I haven't quite gotten my own routine worked out yet. I still feel incredibly rushed...perhaps because of my too long "to-do list".



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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DIY Crates & Shelves

In the middle of my outrageously large IKEA Trofast building project, I realized how much scrap wood we had in the garage taking up space. It was mostly pre-primed lumber. I set out to find something useful to make out of it.

The first project, wooden storage crates, was inspired by I Should Be Mopping The Floor. I can always use more containers to hold stuff and I liked the look of the white wooden crates she made.

I was still figuring out our circular saw so the crates looked really rough to begin with:


But once they were sanded and smoothed a bit, then painted, they looked nice with a little bit of a rustic vibe going:


I've got them under the buffet in my dining room for now.

The handles were purchased from Lowe's for $1.38 each. They were thin, but strong. I would have preferred a beefier, more rounded handle (much like the ones in the original tutorial from Hobby Lobby), but these were the only ones that had a rustic look to them. They're strong enough for sure, but they are thin so if the crates are heavy, the thinner handles would make the crates less comfortable to carry.



I also made two shelves inspired by Turnstyle Vogue. They added additional storage in The Girl's room.



To get the required depth needed for the brackets, the shelves wound up with some additional space between the slats. That makes the shelves look more like fencing but they work. The brackets came from Lowes and were $4.97 each.



Free lumber. The garage cleared out a bit more. 2 quick projects done. More storage space acquired. Win!



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Friday, August 15, 2014

Refrigerator Dough Apple Dumplings


This is a refrigerator dough version of the Easy Apple Dumpling recipe I've used multiple times in the past. In my quest to steer away from store-bought convenience foods (like the canned crescent rolls called for in the original Apple Dumpling recipe), I've begun to see how many of my older recipes could be made using the Potato Refrigerator Dough as a substitute for certain ingredients.

To Make Your Refrigerator Dough Apple Dumplings:

- Roll 1/4 of the Potato Refrigerator Dough Recipe into 14-inch circle.
- Cut into 8 wedges (I use a pizza cutter).
- Brush or spread each wedge with softened butter.


- Sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
- Cut a large Granny Smith apple into 8 wedges.
- Place a piece of apple onto each dough wedge and roll up starting from the wide end and ending with the point. Tuck in ends. Continue with remaining apples and dough wedges.


- Place evenly spaced into a greased or buttered baking dish (I usually use something between an 8x8 and a 9x13 dish).


- Cover lightly and let rise until double, 60 to 90 minutes. If you don't need to bake them until later, place the covered pan in the refrigerator and pull out to rise approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you plan to bake them.
- Mix together 1 stick of melted unsalted butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Pour butter mixture over and around the dumplings.
- Pour 1/2 cup of lemon-lime soda around the edges of the dumplings.
- Sprinkle tops with more cinnamon.
- Bake at 350°F degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until nicely golden brown.
- Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.





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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Bare Bones" Cell Phone for $30 A Year? Yes, Please!

If your phone is your lifeline, if you have to upgrade your phone all the time, or if you have to have all the bells and whistles, this post will probably not interest you (though it may still save you money).

I am not known for my cell phone use. In fact, people would probably say I am known for NEVER answering my cell phone, for forgetting to charge my cell phone, and even more often, for not even having my cell phone turned on.

I don't make calls on my cell phone. I don't text...ever. I don't own a smartphone and have no desire to own one. I would be happy just not bothering with a cell phone except Mr. LH insists I have one "for emergencies".

For years, I have had cell phone service through Verizon on a plan with shared minutes that allowed us to have an "add on" phone for $9.99 a month (after all regulatory fees and taxes it wound up being over $13 a month but we'll just say it's $10/month to make it easy). Last month, my phone enjoyed 5 minutes of call time. I wasn't even the one making the calls. The Boy had my phone so he could call us when he was ready for a ride home after his Boy Scout meetings ended.

5 minutes. Ten dollars.

That "emergency" phone got to be quite expensive to have.

A few weeks ago we cancelled my phone on our Verizon plan. I was going to test a new (new to us) provider, Page Plus Cellular.


The reviews for Page Plus are all over the place, from good to bad. I noticed that most people who do complain are upset about data streaming speeds. I have also read very positive reviews from people who use a lot of data. But I don't need data. I only need to be able to call for help in an emergency (and occasionally let The Boy use my phone when he's at Boy Scouts). And the majority of the reviews I read from frugal-minded people (especially those who, like me, don't need a phone to do much more than make a phone call), were quite positive.

I get (sort of) the same coverage with Page Plus as I did with Verizon. In Colorado, coverage looks to be a little spotty in parts of the higher mountains and the eastern plains (voice available in most areas and no coverage in some areas) but in the areas I would be most likely to travel, I shouldn't have a problem. Near The Boy's camp outside of Elbert, Colorado, my Page Plus phone had no signal. Mr. LH's phone showed one to two bars. Inside the camp (rocky, hilly and covered with trees), neither phone had a signal.


You can view the coverage for your area by typing in your zip code on the Coverage Map.

I was able to use my current Verizon phone (a 4+ year old Samsung SCH-U900 FlipShot) so I didn’t have to buy one. It still worked fine and I don't need the "latest and greatest". If it dies, I'll find another old phone to use. $10 was all it took to activate my old phone with the new phone number (after 4 years of living in Colorado, I still had a NC phone number - it was time to fix that). If I had chosen to keep my old number, activation would have been free.

After just a few minutes and a few steps, my phone was up and running with a new number on the new service. I was provided with $2 of calls/texts/data to "test things out".

Page Plus has a lot of available plans, but I wanted the bottom of the barrel one because I rarely ever use my cell phone. I went ahead and purchased the bare minimum pay-as-you-go card online, received an immediate confirmation with a PIN, and entered the PIN online.  It was all quite easy! Now I have 100 minutes that will expire 120 days from now if I don’t use them. At that time, I can purchase another 100 minute PIN.

It cost me $10 for the minutes (technically, it came to $11.11 with all the regulatory fees and taxes). So that works out to $30 a year for up to 300 minutes (that I will still probably never use) verses $120 a year that we were paying through Verizon with a cheap $10 a month “add-on” plan.

I have the same phone, almost the same coverage, the same "emergency communication capabilities" and a new number...all for $90 less per year.


All opinions are my own. Page Plus Cellular is in no way affiliated with this blog and did not request a review. Also, Mr. LH and I have always been happy with Verizon phone service and Verizon customer service...just not the price. Since we do sometimes travel to remote areas, Mr. LH will be keeping his Verizon service but changing it to a smaller plan. That way, there's a better chance we will have a signal when needed.



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Friday, August 8, 2014

Refrigerator Dough Cream Cheese Danishes

When I found out the Potato Refrigerator Dough Recipe could be used to make crescent rolls, the wheels started turning. Several years ago I tried an easy cheese danish recipe that I liked. I knew I wanted to try making those danishes by substituting this potato refrigerator dough for the store-bought crescent rolls in the recipe.


This is not going to turn out a flaky, dense pastry like traditional danishes, and although this recipe takes a little longer to make than the Refrigerator Dough Cinnamon Rolls, the results are quite good! Mr. LH bit into one and said "Wow!" He had 2 more the next day (of course, I had more than my share myself).

To make your Refrigerator Dough Cheese Danishes:

- Roll 1/4 of the Potato Refrigerator Dough Recipe into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick.
- Cut dough into 8 equal(ish) sized blocks.
- Brush each block with softened or melted butter.
- Sprinkle each block with about 1 teaspoon brown sugar.


- Roll each block into a rope and pinch the seam and edges to seal.


- Coil each rope and place on a greased cookie sheet (or parchment paper or silicone baking mat).

To do this, I rolled, squished and pinched the dough to make my rolls skinnier and longer after I pinched the edges shut. Then I coiled them.


- Press each coil to flatten.


- Cover loosely and let rise until double, 60 to 90 minutes.


- Gently create an indention in the middle of each danish and fill with approximately 2 Tablespoons of the cream cheese filling (recipe below).


- Bake at 350°F for 18-20 minutes or until a light golden brown.


- Drizzle with glaze (recipe below).


  • Cream Cheese Filling: Combine 8 oz. softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Mix until smooth and creamy.
  • Glaze: Combine 1 cup powdered sugar (sifted), 1 tsp vanilla extract and 2 Tbs milk. Stir until smooth.



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    Wednesday, August 6, 2014

    Making The Most of Your Coupons

    A couple months ago when I wrote about cutting my food budget, I mentioned couponing as one of the methods I used. If coupons are used incorrectly, they may hurt your budget causing you to choose to buy products you don't need and may not want or use, simply because you can save money. However, if used correctly, coupons can be a fantastic tool for saving money. And when you're working to pay off debt like we are, every penny counts!


    Where Do You Get Coupons?

    Clip-able Coupons:

    You can find coupons in your Sunday newspaper. Inserts from SmartSource, RedPlum and P&G are chock full of clip-able coupons. You can also usually find a couple in the Parade Magazine insert in the paper. If you don't want to get a subscription, check your recycling center for Sunday papers or ask around your neighborhood or within your circle of friends and family. I don't use the bulk of the coupons I have but I save baby coupons and pet coupons for friends that can use them. The rest I list on Freecycle (another good resource for coupons).

    Magazines advertise heavily and every once in awhile you will find an ad with a coupon attached. All You Magazine is a great resource for clip-able coupons.

    Last week at the dentist's office, I saw a stack of coupons for crest toothpaste, toothbrushes and mouthwash. There were also coupons for Listerine and ACT mouthwash. Although we never have to buy toothbrushes (we get new ones from the dentist every 6 months), I snagged some of the other coupons for toothpaste and mouthwash.

    Printable Coupons:
    Manufacturers coupons can be printed online. Find them on brand websites or places like Coupons.com. Most of the time, you are allowed to print only 2 of the same coupon.

    CommonKindness.com is a printable coupon website that offers lots of coupons for mainly organic and fair trade products. And every time you print and use one of their coupons, CommonKindness "provides funds to support your favorite charities and causes" that you choose from their extensive list.

    Digital Coupons:
    Store loyalty cards can carry digital coupons. You can add these coupons directly to your cards from the grocery store websites or you can go to RedPlum.com and SmartSource.com. These are two of the newspaper coupon publications and they will let you load some coupons directly to select loyalty cards. You can then print out a "shopping list" of the coupons associated with each loyalty card.

    Coupons in samples:
    Most every free sample you receive will come with a coupon...many times it is a VERY nice coupon. I recently received a Listerine coupon for $3 off!  I also received two $5 coupons for Science Diet cat food with no expiration date.

    Coupons in Stores:
    The easiest coupons to obtain and use are the ones right there in the store aisles right nest to the product. They are the ones on tear pads or in blinking machines that dispense coupons. Use one now and take one for later.

    How Do You Maximize Coupon Savings?


    "Before I started using coupons, my trigger price for cereal was $1.77. After I started couponing, my trigger price dropped because I knew I could buy cereal for $1 to $1.49 per box. As I got better at couponing I found I could get the final price even lower on cereal. Now if I can't buy cereal for 50 cents or less, I usually won't buy it. I have a stockpile of cereal that will last a while so I can wait for the right sale and the right coupons to be able to get that price."


    Doubled Coupons:
    Two stores I frequent will double coupons up to $1 value (coupons 49 cents and below double while coupons 50 cents to 99 cents become $1). If this caused an overage, one of those stores will even apply the overage to your remaining total.

    "Double coupons" makes me wonder why on earth I didn't take advantage of coupons before. I used to turn my nose up at "50 cents off" coupons. But at the right stores, those coupons become "$1 off". In some cases, these doubled coupons equates to "free stuff".

    These are all free items from one shopping trip. The Success Rice was purchased for free using a coupon from the manufacturer for one free product. All the pasta and the Clif bar were purchased for free using doubled manufacturer coupons against already low sale prices.

    Stacked Coupons:
    Sometimes, things will align just right for you to be able to "stack" coupons. That means you are using a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon for the same product.

    This example equals $5 in savings:



    Matching Coupons to Sales:
    The best way to maximize your coupons is to use them against sale items at various stores to find the best deals. This can be a lot of work, especially when you take into account different stores policies for doubling and stacking, but thanks to the internet there are sites that do most of the legwork for you.

    My favorite site to use is The Krazy Coupon Lady. On this site, you get a heads up about the coupons coming out in the Sunday paper. She also will match coupons to sale items for countless stores (choose your store to find your deals). Then, if there are deals spotted throughout the week, those are posted as well (and matched to coupons). Sign up for their email list and you won't miss a deal.

    I was able to buy these nail polishes for The Girl for 27 cents a piece from Walgreens using coupons and a BOGO half off sale (she chose the colors based on her favorite Pokemon). If I had started couponing just a couple weeks earlier,  I could have scored these at Kmart for FREE!

    These sites also track Target's store coupons but don't track any personalized grocery store coupons that you may receive in the mail or online so you'll have to match those up yourself.

    Cash Back Offers:
    You're saving money using coupons, but there's more you can do beyond that. With just a little more time and effort (just a little), you can get cash back for certain products. It's like a delayed coupon. I'd call it a rebate, but rebates can be a pain in the neck and take a long time.

    Checkout51 lets you take a picture of your receipt and upload it to their website to get cash back on certain product purchases. New deals are posted every Thursday and run for a week. When you buy them (one or any combination of them), you take a picture of your receipt and upload it. When your account reaches $20, they send you a check. I've used this service the most, mainly because you don't have to have a smartphone to use it as with similar services.

    SavingStar is another cash back offer website. They don't have as many cash back deals to offer as Checkout51 but you can find digital coupons here to send to select loyalty cards.

    Ibotta offers cash back and is quite popular but requires you to use an app. Again, I don't have a smartphone so I can't take advantage of these deals.

    Speaking of rebates...

    If you have the patience and the time to put forth the effort, look into rebates. I purchased Crest Mouthwash priced at $3.99. I used a $1 coupon and then sent in a rebate form for $3. Within a few weeks I had a $3 debit card in my mailbox.
    "Before I started using coupons, buying deodorant was always so expensive! When it went on sale, I would buy a couple containers even though it still cost a lot. When I started couponing, I was excited to get deodorant for 49 cents ($2 coupon against a sale item). Last week, I got three deodorants for free...just by matching doubled coupons to sale items. Now I have enough deodorant for the entire family and won't have to buy any for the next year."
    There are so many ways you can save. You just need to be patient and wait for the right deals. So take your time, stay away from things you wouldn't normally buy and have fun couponing!



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    Monday, August 4, 2014

    Refrigerator Dough Crescent Rolls


    Crescent Rolls are one of the variations for Potato Refrigerator Dough provided with the recipe in my 1973 Betty Crocker Cookbook.

    1973 version on the left, 1950's reprint copy on the right
    However, the baking instructions suggested baking at 400°F which I found to be much too high, so I changed it as well as a couple other minor things.

    To Make Your Refrigerator Dough Crescent Rolls:

    - Roll 1/4 of the Potato Refrigerator Dough Recipe  into a 12-inch circle.
    - Cut into 16 wedges (I used a pizza cutter).
    - Spread dough with softened butter.


    - Roll up, beginning at rounded edge.


    - Place rolls, with points underneath, on greased cookie sheet (or parchment paper or silicone baking mat).


    - Cover loosely and let rise until double, 60 to 90 minutes.
    - Gently brush the tops with melted butter. Too much pressure could cause your dough to fall.
    - Heat oven to 350°F. Bake until light brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Makes 16 rolls.



    Mmmm! Light, fluffy, and delicious...especially with a pat of butter!



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    Saturday, August 2, 2014

    Refrigerator Dough Hamburger Buns

    While I was experimenting with the Potato Refrigerator Dough, I figured I try to make some hamburger buns. I had already changed around a hamburger bun recipe to make hot dog buns out of this dough. It made sense to see if the new recipe procedure would work for hamburger buns, too.



    Hamburger Bun Recipe (using Potato Refrigerator Dough)
    • Use 1/3 of the Potato Refrigerator Dough recipe. Section it into 8 equal parts.
    • Shape each part into smooth ball on lightly floured surface then flatten to about 1/2 inch (this should make your dough rounds approximately 3" across).
    • Place about 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet  (or use a silicone mat on the baking sheet).


    • Loosely cover the dough with a cloth and set aside to rise until doubled in size, approximately 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the humidity and temperature of your kitchen. (I usually rise dough in my oven with the light bulb on).
    • Heat oven to 350°F.
    • Brush buns egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds if desired.
    • Bake until golden brown, 20 - 22 minutes.


    • Makes 8 hamburger buns.



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